Bertolt Brecht was born on February 10, 1898, in the medieval city of Augsburg, part of the Bavarian section of the German Empire. Married in 1897, his father was a Catholic and his mother a Protestant. Brecht was their first child, baptized as Eugen Bertolt Friedrich Brecht. His father, Bertolt Friedrich Brecht, worked in a paper factory. His mother, Wilhelmine Friederike Sophie Brezing, was ill with breast cancer most of his young life. He had one brother, Walter, who was born in 1900.
Much of his work, including twelve hundred poems, was still unpublished; of twenty-one major plays seven had not been professionally acted in German. It was plain, however, that he was a writer of the first importance. He was above all a poet with a great mastery of styles and forms, who endowed his mature work with a forceful simplicity that is rare in German and was partly based on English models. This verbal strength and energy is a main feature of his plays. They may be unreal in setting and slack in construction, but they are always poetic and (after 1926) often humorous, ironical, and down-to-earth. The works with Weill are sharp satires, influenced by jazz and the cabaret song; the Lehrstücke, based on the Japanese nkno drama, are detached and judicial; the big plays of 1938-1948 have the sprawling narrative richness of the Shakespearean "history," a loose "epic" form that Brecht always admired.
In notes on the plays and in essays he worked out a whole theory of theatrical aesthetics. This theory largely rejects empathy, suspense, and plot in order to make the spectator aware of the actor's artificiality, and so of the real world in which they both live, and its shortcomings. But his principles of "alienation" and "epic theater" played surprisingly little part in his direction of his own company, which apart from a few personal quirks was mainly remarkable for coherence of approach and perfection of detail. His real achievement lay in kneading all elements of his theater--words, music, story, setting, direction, and theory--into a whole where everything related to his Marxist, plebeian, antimilitarist view of the world, and his wish to communicate this view clearly and entertainingly to his audience. Because his methods often ran against the official Communist aesthetic of Socialist Realism he was a figure of controversy in Eastern Europe as well as the West.
He believed in communal effort, working unusually closely with his composers and with a team of whom the chief members were Elisabeth Hauptmann (literary), Caspar Neher (scenery), and Erich Engel (production). His models, whom he pillaged freely, included FrançoisFrancois Villon, the Japanese actor-author Seami, Shakespeare, Grimmelshausen, George Büchner,Buchner, John Gay, Arthur Rimbaud, Rudyard Kipling, Jaroslav Hašek,Hasek, and Arthur Waley; and his work at times parallels Paul Claudel's. But the joint result always bore Brecht's individual stamp.